#10 K.J. Walton
6'3" 197 lbs
Sometimes late additions work out, not always, but sometimes. In the case of K.J. Walton, things most definitely worked out. Coming in, there were several national recruiting folks who thought Walton could come in and lead the team in scoring, but that felt a stretch at the time even with Mizzou's last two seasons, it's tough for a freshman to come in and make that kind of impact, particularly a player like Walton who struggles with his jump shot. When Mizzou was lucky enough to land the 4-star wing, he was expected by the coaches to challenge for a starting spot and be a major contributor. And with both, he got pretty close.
Walton started a handful of games, and showed flashes of high level ability, particularly in attacking the rim. His ability to swiftly navigate the lane and draw contact was one of the reasons why the Tigers offense was so much better statistically than it was last year. Walton's 106.3 Offensive Rating was the second highest on the team behind Ryan Rosburg, and his ability to get better as the season went along led many to question why he wasn't playing more than some other players.
K.J.'s 5.3 points per game ended up being 7th on the team, but he was also 9th in minutes played at 13.8 per contest. When Walton played, he usually contributed, he just needs to find a way to be more consistent. Some of the reasons for his inactivity in minutes stems from the coaching staff's trust in other players to be in the right position on both ends of the floor. While Walton was struggling to find consistent minutes, the coaches rewarded him in other ways by singing his praises for his work ethic and attitude in press conferences and in private. Walton is a young man that the staff is very excited about, they just want him to learn up the little things of defensive spacing and off the ball work, along with making sure he knows where he's supposed to be on offense as much as possible.
So the future for Walton is certainly bright. He has the ability to be the kind of guy who by the end of his career is an All-SEC level performer. He just needs to find consistency from his jump shot, get stronger, and become a more reliable ball handler. But already you can see the makings of a great player. His ability to use a jump stop or euro-step is unique for player his age. Projecting Walton forward, I'd imagine he's a likely starter next season, depending on who comes in. And if he's around for four years, could be a reason why Mizzou was able to turn this ship around.
K.J. is an extremely talented guy who lost minutes this year because of some problems with positioning on both ends of the court. If he gets that sorted out, he's the best hope on the roster of replicating the level of play that we're losing with Namon Wright's departure. Walton's the best guard on the roster at getting to the basket and drawing contact, and his jump shot is better than I expected it to be based on his recruiting profile. If his defense comes along and he learns to function within the offense - which there were signs of down the stretch this year - he's going to be a bright spot for the Tigers in the upcoming season. His ball-handling abilities mean he's also probably the best candidate to back up Phillips at the PG spot next year, although he would need to work hard on the offensive scheme for that to be anything more than an emergency option.
KJ Walton’s freshman season felt a lot like a freshman season would. There were flashes of offensive capabilities, especially in his ability to get to the rack and draw contact, a point of emphasis by the coaches after the previous season. But he did have problems with being in the right place at the right time. I’m basing this on the fact that Cullen VanLeer started over Walton for most of the season, and CVL was an offensive black hole on the court for Mizzou. Hopefully KJ can figure out his assignments this offseason (both offensively and defensively), refine his jump shot a bit and be a solid starter on night one next season, stepping in for the recently departed Namon Wright.